Every once in a blue moon, I am exposed to a movie so terrible that it transcends its own awfulness and becomes almost brilliant. "Don't Answer the Phone!" is such a movie--it's jammed full of cliches, stilted acting, awkward scripting, political incorrectness, AND it has an exclamation point right there in the title. The movie follows the crime spree of a demented Vietnam Vet Kirk Smith (played with... zeal... by Nicholas Worth) as he rapes and strangles his way through a series of scantily clad models. If you guessed that he's trailed by a pair of tough-talking police detectives, you'd be spot on (there's a wise-cracking coroner, too--this movie doesn't miss a trick).
In structure, the movie feels a little like the retarded cousin of Michael Mann's "Manhunter," made six years after "DAtP!" and most likely entirely unrelated to the earlier film (I can't imagine Mann having an "AHA!" moment of inspiration during a movie where the cops remark on the relative sexiness of the murder victims at each crime scene). A great deal of screen time is spent with the killer, not only during his violent activities, but also while he goes about his everyday activities, which appear to consist of weight-lifting, freakouts stemming from his troubled childhood, and creepy phonecalls to a lady psychologist on the radio. During these phonecalls, Kirk assumes a wacky accent and refers to himself as "Ramone"--it's as awesome as it sounds, trust me. Granted, Fulci's "New York Ripper" will always hold the fake-voiced-killer grand prize, but I take my wacky accents where I can get 'em. This kind of inappropriate comedy is present throughout the movie and accounts for the thin layer of slime one feels building up as the plot progresses.
In fact, the inappropriate comedy combined with the overall misanthropic tone of the movie accounts for almost all of the film's impact--the violence is virtually bloodless, the sex is relatively non-graphic, and there is no build-up of suspense. A bad-taste, campy atmosphere pervades, with rotten dialogue (I'm trying to get "shut up or I'll tear your tit off" entered into the everyday slang of my household--so far, no luck) and acting styles that range from wooden to Catskills Comedian. I'll spare you my thoughts on shot framing and cinematography here--there's not much to work with. It's assembly-line B-movie workmanship, with a little killer-POV here and a few shots of lonely night-walking there. There are some truly delirious moments, such as a whorehouse bust that's right out of "Benny Hill," that make me marvel at this movie as an exemplar of so-rotten-its-awesome movie badness.
Many thanks go out to Stoned Gremlin's indie production "Midnight Heat" on YouTube for reminding me of my shameful love for "DAtP!"
Related to all this: I have a dream, internet, and that dream is to finance an all-drag musical based on "Don't Answer the Phone." Don't let me down, people. I know there is someone out there who is up to the task of making this vision a reality.